Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Melanoma is a preventable but common disease

Posted on February 29, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

Melanoma is a preventable but common disease

By Erica Jones/Free Press Staff

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons (

Binge drinking, texting and driving, unprotected sex, these are just a few risky or dangerous activities that many people partake in despite knowing what the consequences could be. Smoking cigarettes is another good addition to this list: In the United States, smoking is the leading cause of cancer, but 40 million citizens smoked in 2014. But there is another, often overlooked cause of cancer that is on the rise, and it makes you 70 percent more likely to develop cancers like melanoma or basal cell carcinoma: indoor tanning.

The demographic that has seen the biggest effects of indoor tanning is women aged 18 to 39, being the demographic with the most frequent use of tanning beds. The number of young women with new diagnoses of melanoma has skyrocketed, and these women are now eight times more likely to be diagnosed with this potentially deadly form of cancer.

Dermatologist Michael Swann explained what makes tanning beds so dangerous: “Tanning beds can be UV-B [light] (which cause sunburns and is the target of traditional sunscreen protection) or UV-A,” wrote Dr. Swann in an email response. “UV-A is naturally less intense than UV-B, but UV-A tanning beds can emit 12-times the normal dose of UV-A, which causes suppression of the immune system and mutations of the pigment producing melanocytes.  UV-A goes deeper into the skin and may be  more important than UV-B in the initiation of the mutations resulting in melanoma.”

The rise of skin cancer rates coincides with the growth of indoor tanning, combined with common misconceptions about the safety of tanning beds.

“Dermatologists have found that young women who use tanning beds are more motivated by beauty than by the fact that they cause skin cancer,” said Dr Swann.

He also noted that tanning “has been shown in studies to be addictive. People get a euphoric feeling and some people enjoy the quiet meditation in a tanning bed.”

Indoor tanning is a growing five-billion-dollar-per-year industry. Marketing strategies can lead people into believing that tanning is virtually just as safe, or at least only slightly less safe, than outdoor tanning with natural sunlight. “No matter what marketing you hear, UV radiation leads to premature skin aging caused by wrinkles, loss of elasticity, brown spots, blood vessel proliferation and sagging skin in addition to melanoma,” affirmed Dr Swann.

When asked if there are any positive aspects of indoor tanning, Dr. Swann replied, “Tanning causes immunosuppression and can be useful for some patients with skin conditions, but should be discussed with a dermatologist because generally safer methods should be utilized initially.”

For the rest of us without those certain qualifying conditions, the truth is that aside from the euphoria experienced by many when tanning and the beneficial production of Vitamin D from the UV rays, there are no benefits to indoor tanning. A single tanning session increases your risk of melanoma by 20 percent, regardless of age. Dr Swann also revealed that in some studies, indoor tanning has been shown to be more dangerous than cigarette smoking, and that when someone starts indoor tanning before age 35, their risk of melanoma increases by 70 percent.

“I don’t know anything about melanoma, except for what you just told me is kinda crazy,” said USM student Dalton Covel after hearing the statistics about melanoma for the first time. “I’m gonna tell my girlfriend, because she works at a tanning salon and maybe she doesn’t know it either.”

Another student commented that he had just recently used a tanning bed in preparation for an upcoming vacation.

There are things you can do to reduce your risk of melanoma. Simply staying away from tanning beds is one method of keeping your risk lower, with even a single tanning session causing significant damage. Another preventative measure against melanoma is consistent use of physical sunscreens, said Dr. Swann: “Chemical sunscreens don’t protect you as well as physical sunscreens, so look for the ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.”

Someday, Dr. Swann believes, melanoma will not be so prevalent in our country. “Smoking has sort of fallen out of vogue as we have become healthier as a culture,” he theorized, “and I think one day we will look back at tanned skin and see how ridiculous it looks and realize what people are doing to themselves.”

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